Part 1: Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon (and a lot more besides…)

If you’ve been reading the blog/are my friend/husband and have had to listen to me rabbiting on, you’ll know that on my recent trip to Nepal I managed to squeeze in a 4-night trip to Bhutan as well. Bhutan is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and it’s an hour away from Kathmandu by plane, so it seemed rude not to!

As landing and taking off from Paro airport is highly dependent on the weather [visual rules, so the pilot actually has to be able to see. Useful I’d think] I made sure I was at Kathmandu airport at stupid o’clock and was rewarded by the 50-seater twin prop plane taking off 10 minutes early. I had a seat on the left-hand side of the plane but unfortunately the clouds were obliterating the mountains so no Everest for me. Luckily I’ve seen the whole range from Tibet so I didn’t feel too disappointed, although seeing mountains is always a good thing. Drukair was impressive. It was a titchy plane but there were two stewardesses and even lunch (maybe not traditional Bhutanese fare: mayonnaise sandwiches, peanuts, biscuits and a mango juice). The sign above my head stated: ‘Meal plates must be stowed in a sofa drawer during take-off and landing’. I loved it.

Plane on the tarmac at Kathmandu airport

Plane on the tarmac at Kathmandu airport

Plane on the tarmac at Paro airport

Plane on the tarmac at Paro airport

The King and Queen keeping an eye on us all

The King and Queen keeping an eye on us all

We arrived safely at Paro, where immigration and baggage control was a breeze. My guide and driver, Tshering and Pema, were waiting for me outside [Anna, UK, 1 pax – just the way I like it] and they whisked me off to my hotel in Thimphu. Along the way I picked my jaw up off the well-upholstered floor of the car numerous times. The scenery was superb and Tshering filled me in on various things we were seeing along the way. Lush green paddy fields, densely wooded mountainsides (apparently nobody is allowed to cut the trees down), plenty of signs exhorting people to drive carefully [my personal favourite: ‘This is highway, not runway’]. Women selling fruit (mainly apples) and veg by the side of the road, small temples and houses dotted around, cows and calves strolling down the middle of the road.

The hotel in Thimphu was new and comfortable (Hotel Thimphu Towers) and central, in fact on the main Clocktower Square. A perfect place for me to take sneaky photos of people walking around, not realising that there was a tourist on the third floor observing their every move. So I’m nosy, I can’t help it 🙂

DSCF8841 DSCF8842 DSCF8844Bhutan is unusual in that most people wear traditional Bhutanese dress, as in the photos above. Some younger people are now wearing jeans and t-shirts, but people in offices and businesses, and school children, are all dressed like this. Personally I think Bhutanese women are the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen (particularly the current queen, who makes even my knees go wobbly). And it seems effortless. I felt clumsy and red-haired in comparison. And while we’re on the subject of knees, if you go I hope you don’t get too excited by male knees, because you’re going to see a lot of them!

Before I went to bed I watched people in the square while drinking tea. According to Tshering 98% of Bhutanese are Buddhist, and there were certainly plenty of people spinning the prayer wheels in Clocktower Square. It was a very peaceful place and just right for a good night’s sleep.

Travel arranged by the lovely Thinley at Sakten Tours and Treks (thinley@sakten.com).

All photos by me 🙂

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Nepal – Be Here Now

I was lying awake on my first night in Nepal on this particular trip, and my mind was going round and round as it has a habit of doing, when I realised something. I had seen photos of the intrepid tourists who had braved their friends’ worries, their governments’ advice and maybe even their own fears, and had defiantly travelled to Nepal anyway after the earthquake in April and taken photos of themselves holding placards stating something like ‘I’m in Nepal and it’s safe’. This is great, and I don’t want to diminish the power of these photos – ultimately travelling to Nepal or not is an entirely personal decision, but seeing other people there, enjoying the sights, activities, food, drink and culture is surely encouraging.

I wanted to do something a bit different. I wanted to take photos of my friends in Nepal holding a similar sign. These people work in hotels, restaurants, shops and other service industries related to tourism, and have all been affected directly by the earthquake. Some of them have lost friends and relatives, some of them have lost houses, some of them are worried about losing their livelihoods – a result of the fact that far fewer tourists are coming to Nepal than would usually be expected.

That’s enough from me – these photos say everything I want to say as far as I’m concerned. This is an amazing country that has been badly wounded by recent events, but it is far from moribund. I want everyone who reads this blog (and the fact that you’re reading it probably means you love travelling as much as I do) to seriously consider visiting Nepal – whether you’ve been ten times or you’re a Nepal virgin. And if you need any help, get in contact with me or any of the people in these photos. They will all be more than happy to welcome you to their beautiful country.

http://www.hotelmanang.com

http://www.abcadventures.com

https://www.facebook.com/womensdonepal

http://www.lsrpokhara.com/

Yakka, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Yakka, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Ramesh, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Ramesh, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Bhim, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Bhim, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Narottam, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Narottam, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Meena, office assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Meena, office assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Surya, senior teacher at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Surya, senior teacher at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Apsara, top waitress at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Apsara, top waitress at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Bijay, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Bijay, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Sunita, shop assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Sunita, shop assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Rustam, managing director of the best travel agency in Nepal, ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Rustam, managing director of the best travel agency in Nepal, ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Nanda, computer operator at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Nanda, computer operator at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

The absolutely wonderful Ram Kali, founder of Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

The absolutely wonderful Ram Kali, founder of Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Anup, International Manager at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Anup, International Manager at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Friendly snake, Pokhara

Friendly snake, Pokhara

Tej, owner of LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Tej, owner of LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Pradeep and Prem, Kathmandu

Pradeep and Prem, Kathmandu

Parmeshwor, laundry owner, Kathmandu

Parmeshwor, laundry owner, Kathmandu

Kuber, maintenance man who can fix anything at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Kuber, maintenance man who can fix anything at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Ganesh, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Ganesh, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Friendly elephant, Pokhara

Friendly elephant, Pokhara

Prem, world's best tea maker, Kathmandu

Prem, world’s best tea maker, Kathmandu

Sunil, at Pilgrim's Book House, Kathmandu

Sunil, at Pilgrim’s Book House, Kathmandu

Raju and Prajen, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Raju and Prajen, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Raju, senior receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Raju, senior receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Krishna, shop owner, Kathmandu

Krishna, shop owner, Kathmandu

Mukesh, the yak shawl man, Kathmandu

Mukesh, the yak shawl man, Kathmandu

Krishna, best waiter ever, at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Krishna, best waiter ever, at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Mahesh, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Mahesh, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Friendly dragon, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Friendly dragon, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Pradeep, world's best driver, Kathmandu

Pradeep, world’s best driver, Kathmandu

Mukund, scarf and shawl expert, Kathmandu

Mukund, scarf and shawl expert, Kathmandu

Deepika, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Deepika, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Prajen, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Prajen, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Henary, internet cafe owner, Kathmandu

Henary, internet cafe owner, Kathmandu

Delicious veg thukpa at Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Delicious veg thukpa at Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Dipika, receptionist at Hotel Manang Kathmandu

Dipika, receptionist at Hotel Manang Kathmandu

Shatrudhan and his daughter Neha, from Mithaila Women Craft, Kathmandu

Shatrudhan and his daughter Neha, from Mithaila Women Craft, Kathmandu

Archana, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, the best thakali food in the world, Kathmandu

Archana, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, the best thakali food in the world, Kathmandu

Milan from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Milan from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Sanjiv, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Sanjiv, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Subarana from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Subarana from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Kedar the wonderful mask maker, Kathmandu

Kedar the wonderful mask maker, Kathmandu

Ramesh, world's best F&B manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Ramesh, world’s best F&B manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Suresh, world's best Operations manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Suresh, world’s best Operations manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Gyanu, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Gyanu, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Nirmal, Saroj and Adarsh from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Nirmal, Saroj and Adarsh from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Ananta from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Ananta from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Kiran from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Kiran from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Dibya from Paper Park, Kathmandu

Dibya from Paper Park, Kathmandu

Mum with Deven, actor, model, lyricist, the owner of the Manang Hotel, Kathmandu and, most importantly, our very good friend

Mum with Deven, actor, model, lyricist, the owner of the Manang Hotel, Kathmandu and, most importantly, our very good friend

My second home

In January 2006 I went over to Nepal for a 10-day holiday and loved it all so much that I went back to live there, moving back to London in June 2007. I now visit at least once a year, and Nepal has become a second home to me. It’s just one of those places that gets under your skin.

Ason market

Ason market in the heart of Kathmandu

Friends who have come with me have liked it, but it hasn’t had the same effect on them. The only person who had a similar reaction was my mum, and she now comes over with me on every trip. We also run a small business bringing over craft items, which we then (try and!) sell at local markets over here. Our main, and favourite, market is the lovely Duck Pond (www.duckpondmarket.com) – we have been at the Ruislip version since the second market, and we now also have a stall at Pinner.

I am off back to Nepal on Sunday for 18 days (not like I’m counting or anything!), and am also fitting in a 5-day trip to Bhutan. It’s only 45 minutes on an amazingly scenic plane trip. Hopefully I will get to see Everest again too 🙂

It will be our first trip back since the earthquake in April 2015 so it’s going to be good to see friends again. We had a panicky few days trying to locate people, but Facebook worked wonderfully well, allowing people to tag other people who they knew were okay. Most of our friends were incredibly lucky, but we do know that others weren’t. It’s going to be great, but it’s also going to be sad. I’m just glad we have the luxury of being able to go back.

Fishtail mountain in Pokhara

Fishtail mountain in Pokhara